Patient Death During California Nurse Strike Possibly Due to Medication Error

A patient at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in San Francisco, California died over the weekend, allegedly due to an incorrect medication dosage from a replacement nurse. About 23,000 nurses across California went on strike on Thursday, September 22, 2011 due to a dispute between the nurses’ union and the healthcare network that runs Alta Bates and other hospitals. The strike was meant to last one day, but the nurses found themselves locked out when they tried to return to work Friday. The lockout continued through the weekend. The hospital brought in replacement nursing staff to cover the shifts for the union nurses.

The patient was a 66 year-old Oakland resident who had been receiving treatment at Alta Bates since July 2011. Preliminary findings indicate that her death resulted from the wrong dosage of a medication, which was administered by one of the replacement nurses.

The nurses’ union, the California Nursing Association, has questioned the qualifications of the replacement nursing staff. The American Nurses Association, which represents nurses nationwide, allows nurses to strike if the intent is to advocate for changes in hospitals to benefit patient health. The ANA’s ethics rules requires nurses going on strike to provide advance notice of their plans and to take steps to minimize any potential harm to patients. The purpose of Thursday’s strike was to protest contract concessions demanded by the healthcare network that, according to the union, would negatively affect patient safety.

Hospital officials have defended the replacement nursing staff, saying that they are all highly experienced, and that the hospital “did not skimp on any of the nurses.” While the question of liability and “fault” may take some time to resolve, this incident clearly demonstrates the difficulties inherent in patient safety in hospitals, especially where medications are concerned. A hospital mired in confusion carries a great risk of pharmacy errors.

This Pharmacy Error Injury Blog has previously noted the high rate of risks for medication errors in hospitals despite efforts at accountability among doctors and nurses. This incident in San Francisco demonstrates a phenomenon noted by a recent study from Johns Hopkins, which found an increased risk of medication errors in hospitals that use temporary doctors and nursing staff. The study concluded that a lack of familiarity with a particular hospital’s systems and procedures among temporary staff can lead to an increased number of medication errors.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last fall found no significant improvement in patient safety despite various efforts. The study reviewed ten North Carolina hospitals over a five-year period from 2002 to 2007, and found harm resulting from medical error in about 25% oh hospital admissions. Not all of these errors were due to medication errors, and only a small percentage of the errors were fatal. Regardless of the employment conditions in a hospital, all hospital staff owes a duty of care to provide the highest quality health care to all patients.

The Maryland pharmacy error attorneys at Lebowitz and Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers protect the rights of patients who have been injured due to hospital errors. If you or a loved one have suffered harm due to a medication error, contact the firm today to schedule a free consultation.

Web Resources:

Code of Ethics for Nurses, American Nurses Association

More Blog Posts:

Medication Errors Linked to Death of Patient in Nursing Home, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, July 8, 2011
Hospital Sued for Wrongful Death After Patient Dies from Drug Error, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, March 22, 2011
Study Finds Frequency of Pain Relieving Medication Errors in Hospitals, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, February 9, 2011

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